I understand the French paradox to mean that the French eat a very high fat diet and yet have very low rates of heart disease and obesity. Researchers tried to understand why the French seem to have low rates of heart disease concluded that it had to be all the wine they were drinking. And for a while, there were recommendations that people should drink more wine until other researchers stepped in and said wine can kill brain cells. Scientists took it one step further and identified that there was this ingredient in wine called polyphenols and resveratrol and the vitamin and supplement industry just exploded with products containing those ingredients.
This is what we tend to do in our culture. We like to learn from other cultures because we genuinely want to feel better and we want to understand what wisdom they have to impart. And yet, oftentimes, we will extract a ‘magic bullet’ solution that fits with our current way of living and being – fast-paced, food on the run – culture.
Well, if you look at the French way of eating, they do pleasure really well and pleasure is one of the most important things to ignite your metabolic fire. What lights you up, food or otherwise, fuels your metabolism.
Based on anthropological research, Americans end a meal saying “I’m full”. The French end a meal by saying “That was delicious”.
Our brain is hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Most of us tend to eat to avoid pain and we shove food down really fast and don’t really taste it. That’s why it’s not uncommon that we can inhale an entire carton of ice-cream when we are stressed and not know how that happened.
When we eat and don’t satisfy our need for pleasure, we actually metabolize a meal at a much slower rate. When we are experiencing pleasure, the body releases endorphins which not only make us feel good, but endorphins actually help the body burn fat. So, the greater the endorphins that get released in your digestive track when you eat for pleasure, the more blood and oxygen will flow there. This will improve your digestion, how well you extract the nutrients from what you are eating and help you burn more calories efficiently.
When I ask people to consider eating with pleasure in mind, they immediately think they will lose all control and inhale bars after bars of chocolate. When we make the intention to eat for pleasure, a few things happen. First, we tend to up the quality of what we are eating. It’s very difficult to savor a Twinkie! Deriving pleasure from food means slowing down and when we slow down, we consciously taste what we are eating. And when we slow down to really taste a Big Mac and luxuriate over all the love and care that went into its preparation, you just can’t. I’m just saying…
Eating for pleasure will automatically attune you to higher quality foods that fit the bill for you. When we eat quality foods, we don’t need that much to satisfy us. Think about the time you had fine chocolate and how satisfying a small amount can be. Healthy food, when eaten for pleasure tastes delicious as long as we give our taste buds a chance to adjust from a highly chemicalized diet. And we start to take pleasure in the wholesomeness of fresh ingredients and healthy foods.
Some of us put ourselves on low-fat diets or eat low-fat foods because we think they will help us lose weight, but fat is very pleasurable and if we just eat for pleasure and tune in to your body, you will gravitate to high quality fats that will satisfy you. Healthy fats are essential for metabolism.
We have more sweet taste buds than any other taste buds and they have a need – to derive pleasure from sweet things. Some of us drink diet drinks/sodas with artificial sweeteners and think we are following a healthy lifestyle. When we drink diet sodas, for example, the body registers that you have taken in something sweet and your pancreas starts to release insulin. And because there is no real sugar for the insulin to process, insulin does its secondary function and that is to have you store fat.
Cheating and tricking the body just does not work. It knows what it needs. If we experience cravings, low energy, weight issues and health problems, etc. even if we think we are being ‘really good’ with food, it may be that we are not allowing ourselves to satisfy our hardwired need for pleasure in terms of what we are eat, how we eat and how we live.
Even if you don’t have a lot of time, you can make the most of that time and allow yourself to experience pleasure with your food. It’s not about doing pleasure perfectly (no such thing). It’s about giving yourself the permission to experience pleasure, real pleasure in food and in life.
Will you give it a try?